Settlement Reached in Civil Suit Charging Franklin County, MS Role in 1964 KKK Murders
On Monday, June 21, Franklin County, Mississippi agreed to a settlement in an historic civil suit with the families of Charles Moore and Henry Dee, two 19-year-old Black men who were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan on May 2, 1964.
"This is the first time, to my knowledge, that any civil lawsuit against public officials for collaborating with the KKK has reached the point of settlement," said Margaret Burnham, lead attorney for the family members who brought the suit against Franklin County. Klansman James Ford Seale went to prison in 2007 for his role in the murders; this landmark civil suit addressed the roles of Mississippi government officials in the double murder and subsequent cover-up of what had occurred.
"It's a bit of a stretch to say they were 'held accountable,'" Burnham added, "because they did not admit to the facts we presented."
"I'm convinced there's nothing else that I can do to get any more truth," said Thomas Moore, brother of victim Charles. Moore said further that African Americans in his home county "are joyful that somebody brought Franklin County officials to reality and to the way they treated other people."
Thomas Moore and Thelma Collins, sister of victim Henry Dee, filed the civil suit against Franklin County, MS in August, 2008. The suit focused on the respective roles and actions from 1964 to 1967 of Franklin County Sheriff Wayne Hutto and Franklin County Deputy Sheriff Kirby Shell, both now deceased. "In the aftermath of the killings," according to the complaint by Moore and Collins,
Sheriff Hutto misled the Plaintiffs when they inquired of the Sheriff about their loved ones. Further, Sheriff Hutto deceived the Plaintiffs into thinking he knew nothing of the whereabouts of Moore and Dee when in fact he did.
Throughout 1964, Hutto and Shell misled investigative agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the murders, concealing their participation in the events of May 2, 1964, the day the two young men were killed.
Hutto and Shell covered up their role in these crimes, deceiving law enforcement officials as well as the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs did not become aware of the participation of Hutto and Shell as co-conspirators until the federal indictment was returned on January 24, 2007. Nor could Plaintiffs have discovered Hutto and Shell’s culpability before the indictment. The U.S. Justice Department immunized Charles Edwards, one of the coconspirators and, on November 3, 2006, obtained from Edwards a full statement of the crimes revealing for the first time ever the involvement of Franklin County on the day the men were slain.
"The settlement didn't need to happen," noted documentary filmmaker David Ridgen, "if Franklin County officials would have simply apologized to the Moore and Dee families for the actions and inactions of their officials in colluding with and in some cases participating in the Ku Klux Klan's reign of terror during the civil rights era."
Ridgen's film Mississippi Cold Case documented Thomas Moore's quest to learn the truth about what happened to his brother Charles and to Henry Dee. In their work together on the film Ridgen and Moore uncovered evidence that led to the indictment, trial and conviction of Klansman James Ford Seale.
"I am proud of Thomas Moore for being the juggernaut that pushed this civil suit forward with his lawyers," Ridgen said, "and I am hopeful that it will lead to civil trials in the near future that will hold Mississippi and elsewhere, state and county, accountable."
"This is a case about unconscionable crimes and unconscionable deception," Moore and Collins charged in their complaint.
It is also a case about the systematic denial by Franklin County of law enforcement protection to African-Americans and to whites suspected of opposing the Klan’s campaign of racist terror.
It is a case about the collusive and unlawful relationship between the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and Franklin County.
Franklin County officials stated in their resolution that they do not condone "the horrific deaths of Charles Moore and Henry Dee. "The county desires not to imply the deaths were anything but abhorrent."
But the county denied any responsibility for the deaths of the two 19-year-old Black men. The officials resolved that the county had not "caused or contributed to the deaths of these two young men. These deaths are believed to have resulted solely from the criminal actions of the Ku Klux Klan."
In their resolution, the Franklin County officials questioned the evidence in the civil complaint, drawn substantially from the evidence presented in the criminal trial of James Ford Seale that led to his conviction.
George Colllins, President of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors, who signed the resolution accepting the terms of settlement with Thomas Moore and Thelma Collins, had no comment when he was reached on the phone on Tuesday night.
"What we sought to prove was common knowledge at the time," Margaret Burnham said, "that these crimes could not have persisted without the support of local officials....There is no statute of limitations on murder, no expiration date on moral obligation, and there should be no impunity for human rights violators.”
"I am satisfied with the verdict of the criminal trial, and I'm satisfied with the settlement," concluded Thomas Moore. "I ran the race and I fought a good fight. I am finished with this case."
"I am at peace for the first time in 46 years," Moore said.
- Franklin County Board of Supervisors Resolution (PDF)
- Statement, Civil Rights and Restorative Justice, Northeastern University School of Law (PDF)
- Moore v. Franklin County Complaint (PDF)
- Michele Norris, "Miss. Officials Agree To Settlement In '64 Slayings" (NPR)
- Jerry Mitchell, "Lawsuit over '64 deaths settled" (Jackson Clarion-Ledger)
- Jonathan Saltzman, "Justice follows decades of silence" (Boston Globe)